Suppliers Open up to Hospitality Market

Carole Sloan, July 9, 2007

For decorative fabrics and home textiles suppliers, the hospitality segment of the contract market is one of the fastest growth opportunities in a universe of shrinking retail business outlets.

The hotel and boutique lodging business rebounded quickly and dramatically after 9/11, according to many executives in the home furnishings business. And as part of the recovery, the operators of the hotels were anxious to upgrade their furnishings as a competitive advantage.

Bedspreads became verboten, blankets took a back seat to comforters, and an array of pillows per bed was deemed to be not just fashion-forward but more sanitary since the bed coverings would have to be laundered per guest visit.

Quickly, the residential market began to embrace what was called "the hotel look," creating a tsunami-like business effect in both the retail and hospitality markets — simple white bedding ensembles, a plethora of decorative and functional pillows with minimalist embellishments, and throws that offered a color statement on the beds.

At the same time, these hotel operators became competition to conventional home textiles and home furnishings retailers by offering consumers a wide array of product: sheets, top of bed, towels, and bath accessories, mattresses and tabletop, via special flyers in their rooms and later by sophisticated online and catalog presentations.

The players in this venue range from the Ritz in Paris — which includes extravagantly designed chandeliers as well as decorative fabrics, silverware, and furniture — to the Marriott chain, with a catalog that embraces the entire range of home products that guests can order on site or at home.

And while trade shows like HD in Las Vegas and HD Boutique in Florida, as well as global shows such as Dubai are critical, constant client communication is key. A program can take anywhere from a few months to a few years to consummate.

"Overall, the hospitality market is our largest division and is growing rapidly," said Marti Dollenmaier, president of Anichini. "And what this business is doing is taking us global as a brand — this is very important especially in places like Dubai, Hong Kong and the Middle East," she explained. In dealing with this market, "We have to go face-to-face, and it's with a number of levels — a corporate sale, a specifier/designer, the housekeeping that is involved in price/quality/laundry issues, and purchasing agents — as well as the food and beverage segment."

Another issue, she related, in terms of table linens and bedding, is in-house vs. outside laundry facilities.

The company is actively involved in providing packaging for the hotels' retail sales programs to the degree that they offer shipping to consumers via a third-party provider. And by year end, Anichini will be offering luxury amenities such as soaps.

For Fabricut, which has been involved in this business for many years, "The hospitality market is outstanding," said Harvey Nudelman, president. "Our primary business is providing fabrics, but we do provide finished products," he said. Overall, "We've been recording extremely high double-digit increases."

The company's diverse brands, which range from the mainstream interior designer Fabricut to the upper end Vervain, "have product especially created for the hospitality business, like 126-inch prints for bedding in our designs — as well as a special sales force."

For Custom Comfort, "There's a lot more competition especially in sheets — there's a host of finishes and yarn constructions," observed Trevor Rabkin, co-executive. On the other hand, he noted, "In top of bed it's more fashion-driven, plus there's the white and ecru of the basic bedding. The latter represent cleanliness. The hotels are using bed scarves to dress up the white and ecru."

"It's taken a lot of effort, but we're in front-and-center positioning," noted Mike Harris, president of Faribault. The hospitality area is growing significantly and now represents about 20% of the company's revenues, he said. "It's truly a growth industry, and we have to diversify in our distribution channels."

Key to the company's growth, Harris explained, are "our ability to deliver, innovation, quality for price, and all natural fibers in both throws and blankets."

Textillery has focused on the hospitality market for six years, said Judith Rose, co-principal. "We have an established group of people we work with, and we show in Vegas and Florida."

As for results at the shows, "We have to capture the attention of the specifiers, and they have specific plans. No one buys at these shows, and it can take from a few weeks to a few years to conclude a program," she related.

For Southern Textiles, the bedding division of Leggett & Platt, the hospitality market is a key objective, said Richard Downing, president. "The company is a major player in steel beds and carpeting underlays. We're showing in Vegas and Florida for exposure."

"We're a major supplier to this part of the contract market," said Stan Fradin, president of Roc-Lon, "and this industry is alive and well and growing."

"The beauty of the segment is that it is the 'paper cup' of home furnishings," said Fradin. "The window coverings last three or four years, and then need a redo. Or there is the impact of a new hotel in the area that forces a competitive upgrade."

And benefiting Roc-Lon, Fradin pointed out, "is that the window redo is the least expensive piece of the room. And there have been lots of changes in window coverings design — now sheers, blackout, and a side panel vs. the multi-layered heavy treatments in the past."

On the decorative fabric side of the business, hospitality is very important, agreed Ron Kaufmann, ceo of P/Kaufmann, which has long been involved in this business. "We see it as one of our major growth areas compared with our traditional converting businesses both in products and fabrics."

At Dan River, there is a family of resources for the Starwood 1000 properties globally under the new acquisition, and there is greater purchasing clout centrally, said Don Anderson, executive vp, Baker division, although he said everything is done through strategic purchasing. The company, he added, now is able to source globally; they are the sole source for bed linens and also source other textile products. Dan River's design staff is involved in all facets of the process, he added.

"The business works many ways," said Jim Richman, president and ceo of Richloom. "We offer fabrics and now through our new RBed division offer manufactured product from China and we'll probably begin an in-stock program."

The company has a sales force of about 30 people calling on this market, added Tony Riggio, president of the contract division. Richloom attends the Vegas and Florida shows and maintains direct contact with the major chains, Riggio added.

Richloom, like some other suppliers, sees the cruise business as a new opportunity. The parameters of product acceptance are more stringent because of safety regs, and product that is mostly custom.

At Valdese, as with most decorative fabric mills, "We don't sell direct but through our jobber and specifier relationship customers," said Blake Millinor, vp of the contract division. "The mainstream hospitality market has been really strong over the past few years. From '99 to '01, they were not refurnishing; now they are refurbishing and there's lots of new construction."

"Our business is growing in this area exponentially," said Irwin Gasner, principal of Wearbest Sil-Tex. "We have dedicated people calling on this market." In addition, "We show at shows like Vegas to educate potential customers in the economies and performance."

At Craftex, "We don't sell direct, we sell to distributors and jobbers," said Jack Eger, vp. "We see hospitality as one of our fastest growing programs. That part of the market is opening faster than the residential business."

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